Iraqi refugee Ahmed Zainudeen killed in Arapahoe County carjacking

A refugee family who had been in the U.S. for less than a year is “utterly heartbroken” after their son and brother was shot and killed in a carjacking Tuesday night.

Ahmed Zainuldeen, 23, identified Wednesday by his employment caseworker, Anna Hanel, with refugee resettlement organization African Community Center, was a refugee from Iraq who had been living in Egypt before coming to the U.S. with his parents and younger brother in November 2022.

He was killed in the parking lot of his family’s apartment complex overnight Tuesday in the 7400 block of East Harvard Avenue, according to the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies are still searching for four suspects, who may be teenagers, in connection to the shooting and carjacking.

Zainuldeen’s parents were home when he was killed, Hanel said.

“His parents have seen plenty of violence in their lives,” she said. “Now they had to see it here in the United States, where you’re supposed to feel safe. That’s what you came here for.”

Zainuldeen and his younger brother were working to provide for their family, who fled Iraq due to persecution, Hanel said, and Zainuldeen had only saved up enough money to buy the car that was stolen, a 2012 Hyundai Sonata, a few months ago.

Coming up on one year since they first got here, Hanel said he was on track to becoming a great Colorado resident who was involved in the community.

“You are coming here and in a sense breathing a sigh of relief that you finally got to a new home that will accept you as someone who can stay here and build a life here,” Hanel said. “Ahmed was building that life. He was doing it very well. I’m utterly heartbroken at what’s happening to his family.”

He was bright and curious about the U.S., and would often ask Hanel about current events to learn more about his new home. He and his brother learning English quickly and taught themselves how to use the bus to get around the city.

“He has such a great future ahead of him,” Hanel said. “He was kind and funny. He was always wanting to talk and learn about life here. He was excited, the whole family was excited to build a life here.”

Because Zainuldeen was providing for his family, they have an even tougher road ahead as they deal with the emotional and financial toll.

Money is already tight for refugees, and many only receive “survivor-level” money from refugee organizations for the first few months after they arrive, so families work together to start their new lives.

“Many refugee families, they work as a team with young adults supporting parents and other siblings to be successful in the United States,” Hanel said. “That is something these killers took from this family.”

Hanel, whose own family came to the U.S. as refugees, said she is disappointed this would happen in the U.S.

Zainuldeen’s family, like many, fled their home country to escape violence, but this is now what refugees have to face here, Hanel said, because most don’t make enough money to live anywhere other than in rough neighborhoods.

“I’m heartbroken this is what America has become,” she said. “I’m heartbroken our newcomers have to face violence, hear gunshots in their neighborhoods at night and be re-traumatized. This shouldn’t be happening in this country, but it is. That’s not what coming to and living in America is supposed to be about. We’ve got to be better than that.”

Hanel and a coworker are in the process of setting up a GoFundMe to help Zainuldeen’s family move into a new apartment and try to recover.

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